The scene unfolded during our Sunday morning walk along the C&O Canal.
We were headed back from Swains Lock to Pennyfield Lock along the towpath (the trail). The canal, which happens to have water flowing in it in these parts, was to our right, and to our left was vegetation and a somewhat sharp drop off to the Potomac river. The only people on the trail in front of us were a middle aged couple who walking towards us from the distance.
We heard a commotion behind us. After initially ignoring it, I turned back to see that there were two deer running on the towpath in our direction, being followed by two bicyclists. One of the deer was bigger than then other, probably a parent. Even though the deer had seen us, they keep coming, veering neither left or right. They were scared by the cyclists, and also of what lay on both sides of the trail.
We turned to face the deer. I feared a possible collision and I moved to protect my broken ribs. The deer finally stopped not too far from us. The bigger one then jumped into the trees and bushes on its left, towards the river, and the young one followed. The bicyclists went by.
As the people coming towards us got closer, the bigger deer crashed out of the bushes beside the river and ran across the trail into the canal. It swam across to the other side of the canal and climbed up the hill beside the canal. You could barely see it behind the trees. There was no sign of the smaller deer, but we knew that it was still on the other side of the trail, separated from the deer that was probably its parent.
As the folks approaching us went by, the little deer jumped out of the bushes beside the river in front of them. It saw the people approaching. It took off in the opposite direction along the trail, heading back towards where it had originally come from, and away from the other deer. The folks who are now walking behind the sprinting deer are pantomiming and trying signal to the deer to cross the canal to be with the other one. The deer is in a panic, neither can it understand human communications. Go back and get your young one, we ourselves say to the bigger deer who is on the other side of the canal. Of course, we are not speaking the deer’s language.
We did not wait to see how the drama of the lost deer finally played out. I would not be surprised if the two deer eventually found each other. While they might be considered creatures without intelligence by some human beings, animals have capabilities that would surprise many of us. They are not necessarily limited by the kinds of senses that we human beings normally use. (Check this out!)
The places that we frequent during the weekends allow us to experience things that may be considered out of the ordinary, things that we do not see during the normal course of the day in our usual surroundings. It may simply be that the turtles are hanging out on the logs, or the great blue heron are fishing, or that the wren is singing on a tree as you pass by. You just need to keep your senses open and a different world opens up to you. But our experience last Sunday was unique even by those standards.